You’re not supposed to be able to fuck up the Royal Rumble.
Whatever one’s feelings on WWE, and believe me I got ‘em, this is like the one event that everyone enjoys. You get to see everyone. Throw in some surprise entrants, a couple legends, give some people some cool spots, provide at least one winner we can get excited about, forward some other stories, and you’re there. It’s a simple formula. Outside of the two Rumbles on the card, you really only need one or two good title matches to make it a great night. It’s as simple as can be.
But nothing is that simple when WWE seems to be hellbent on giving its audience a middle finger while their CEO is so completely checked out you wonder if someone shouldn’t be holding a mirror up to his nose several hours a day.
They fucked up the Royal Rumble. Twelve hours later and I’m still in disbelief.
And they fell so far after starting so well. Starting with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins was an interesting call, and probably clued everyone into some goofiness that would allow one or either to reappear later in the night. That’s fine. And for once, WWE didn’t shy away from its own history and let it deepen and color the story behind a match, as Rollns entered through the crowd to the old SHIELD theme. And the match played on that history, as Roman’s run has always been built to cover for the insecurity that he’s never been able to do it on his own. Rollins played expertly on that.
In a vacuum, a DQ finish in the match where Seth pushes Roman over the edge and he simply becomes unhinged, because deep down he knows Seth is right about everything, makes sense and would be a good story beat. But when WWE runs four to six stupid or screwy finishes every week on both their shows, all it does is cause another eyeroll. You can’t drown fans in something for years, week after week, and then think they’re going to say, “Oh that one’s OK though.” It gets lost in the avalanche we’re already buried in.
And that’s as good as it got the rest of the night.
If I have to be fair in any way to New York, and I really don’t want to be, I will say that their options for big women’s Rumble returns were limited. Neither Asuka, nor Bayley, nor Paige were reportedly physically ready, but an appearance from any or all of them would have been hugely welcome.
So their big “surprise” was to unleash Ronda Rousey, who then lurched through her entrance and performance with all the energy and panache of someone wandering the aisles of a CVS looking for antacid. She might as well have worn a big electric sign around her neck that said, “I’m just here for my check.” But then that probably would have caught fire too.
As Vince McMahon continues to chase an escape from being known merely as a “wrestling promoter,” even though it’s made him obscenely wealthy and famous, he can be seduced by any name that might generate crossover appeal. Rousey started in WWE with a great buzz, when she genuinely seemed to be enjoying herself and her matches looked different than most everyone else’s. But like everything else with Rousey, once it got difficult for her, once she wasn’t the unquestioned star, she bitched, she moaned, she lost, and she fucked off. Fans turned on her when she couldn’t display any other gear, and repeatedly getting ethered on the mic by Lynch didn’t help either.
And while WWE confused the initial shock of seeing her return from the crowd with actual desire to see another Rousey push, this really isn’t something fans want. And reportedly she’s going to feud with Charlotte instead of Becky Lynch, which is probably something fans want even less.
But WWE isn’t really concerned with what its fans want. It actively goes out of its way to show you how much it doesn’t want to give fans what they want. During the women’s Rumble, they were on the verge of providing a heartwarming moment when a returning Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan, former faction mates, were about to meet in the middle of the ring. The crowd began to pulsate at the thought of the reunion. And then they were both attacked from behind and Logan eliminated. It would have hurt no one to see these two team up again for just a minute or two. It would have continued the buzz Morgan has created of late. But no, why do that when we can be shitbirds?
The rest of the card fared no better. Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley was fine, until it culminated in another screwy finish with Reigns interfering and causing a win for Lashley. It’s hard to know what that does for Lashley, but if WWE doesn’t care you shouldn’t either. Lynch and Doudrop suffered from following the women’s Rumble and its beer fart of a finish, as well as the Wrestlemania sign catching fire, dripping molten plastic onto a section of the crowd that had to be moved out of danger. The mixed tag was the mixed tag.
And then the men’s Rumble happened. That’s it. It just happened. They didn’t use it to give someone a new shine. There weren’t any memorable spots. The only guy who got the major clearout spot in the middle was Omos, and he moves like an animatronic dinosaur you see at the museum. Again, symbolism, as the match started with AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, a reminder of a turnkey feud that WWE completely fucked up four years ago and neither has really recovered from. All they had to do back then was to tell these two to run their Wrestle Kingdom match over again. That’s all anyone wanted. But no, that was too simple.
So Bork came in last and won it all, in perhaps the most predictable ending of a Rumble in history. Proving, once again, that the only thing WWE will put any effort into is whatever program Reigns is in, and the rest can just hang out by the dumpster. Kevin Owens was eliminated by Shane fucking McMahon, for christ’s sake. Quite a thank you for turning down AEW and staying with WWE. Johnny Knoxville got five seconds. The biggest spot went to Bad Bunny. They were never interested in creating anything new or making a new star or forwarding any other story than Lesnar and Reigns.
It was bewildering. It’s hard to ignore that WWE will headline its biggest show of the year with two part-timers like Lesnar and Rousey (at least Lesnar seems somewhat interested), while AEW just gives you Bryan Danielson and Hangman Page for an hour on free TV.
But what will be the impetus for change? Their billion-dollar TV contracts are locked in, no matter how the ratings go. They can release wrestlers with impunity but the shareholders are happy. They’ll sell somewhere around 150,000 tickets to the two nights of Mania. It’s too entrenched. And worst case, they’ll sell the company for several billion dollars.
It’s obvious when something has become inert. It was a flaming sign last night.